When Not To Correct

by brenda on

Written by my friend Jenne Glover

When my son was about two, he would point out things and call them what they were not: “Bus” he would say to a garbage truck. But does it really matter if my two-year-old thinks that the garbage truck is a bus? Of course not, but it can be SO tempting to go ahead and correct, saying in a lilting voice: “No, that’s not a bus. It’s a garbage truck sweetie” And when my three-year-old insists that “yesterday” he went to grandma’s house but we did not go to grandma’s house yesterday I am tempted to correct him: “Actually you were at Grandma’s house last week.” Or when he looks out the car window and sees a car that looks quite like Daddy’s and says, “There’s Daddy!” I might want to say, “No, honey, that’s not Daddy. He’s at work right now.” Or even when he looks at a purple ball and says, “I have a pink ball” I want so much to say, “Purple, honey, not pink.”

In my sincere attempt to teach him about his world, I have taught him something else unintentionally: your best guess was wrong. Consider the subtleties that I am communicating to my children when the first words out of my mouth are a correction, rather than an affirmation.

The way we speak to our kids really impacts what they think of themselves. If we are too particular, making sure that they have as true a picture of the world as they are capable of, we risk frustrating them, putting distance in our relationship, or worse, damaging their confidence. If they learn from our constant correction that what they say or observe about the world is usually met with some level of resistance, then we as mothers have become something they must overcome. We are a stumbling block in their path, a discouragement in their attempts to make sense of the world.

So save the correcting for issues of disobedience and misbehavior. When your kids say something that is not quite right (or downright incorrect) try your best to find something RIGHT about it, something you can praise or agree with.  In the previous examples you might say, with great enthusiasm, “Oh, you are right! That garbage truck DOES look like a bus!” and “Grandma’s house was fun, huh?” and “Oh, do you see a green car? Do you think you see Daddy in there?” and “that purple ball DOES look pink, doesn’t it?” Notice in these answers that though there is a “correction” in there, you have agreed with and affirmed their comment more than anything else.

A child’s perception of the world is not like an adult’s. They see the world through younger eyes…eyes that are less experienced, yes, but eyes that are eager to explore and inform you of what they know. The more you “kneel down” and get to their eye level to “see what they see,” the more opportunity you have to create bonds between you and your child. Every time you find yourself correcting where correction has no place, you risk missing an opportunity to tie a bond.

Free yourself from the notion that accuracy in understanding is priority. The priority is to encourage your kids to discover the world, without fear of being wrong in their discoveries. The tiny little window they view the world through will expand as they get older, and those “inaccuracies” will mostly correct themselves naturally in that expansion. In the mean time, crouch down and look through that little window with them and enjoy together the world that they see. The confidence you build in your kids through your affirming, encouraging conversation will translate into an increased appetite for knowledge. And if you have been an encouragement in their learning, chances are they will eagerly seek after the things you teach them.


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